How much to request for spousal support (formerly referred to as alimony) is one of the most difficult questions you will face during your divorce. The amount of spousal support requested and awarded varies considerably, making negotiations and pleadings, very difficult. Sometimes spousal support is not awarded at all when the marriage has been relatively short, with longer marriages offering higher likelihood of it being considered by the court.
Where do you start?
We know that during the marriage, your expenses were shared by you and your spouse. Your electric bill was higher, you probably purchased more food, and you may have had a bigger home for you both. So what happens now? Are those expenses that you had previously still going to be your expenses moving forward? The scenarios below will help give you a better picture.
In the first situation, Husband and Wife are divorcing. Their combined income was well over $200,000. Husband made approximately 90% of the income. Their combined monthly expenses were around $15,000. During the pending divorce, Husband left the marital home, leaving Wife with all those expenses. So does Wife present to the court the $15,000 expenses the parties had during the marriage? Probably not.
Wife should be realistic about her expenses now. She is now a single income earner. Spending $1000 a month on a food expense is probably unrealistic for a single person. Her $500 monthly electric bill will probably decrease. Here, Wife can show that she is incapable for providing for her reasonable needs based on her low income. However, it is likely that the court will not award her $15,000 in spousal maintenance, because it is realistic to assume her expenses for her needs alone will be less.
The Two Steps To Qualify
When requesting spousal maintenance during your divorce, you must meet two steps. The Arizona statute that addresses these steps is A.R.S. § 25-319. You must first show that you qualify for spousal maintenance under section A of the statute, and only then can you address the amount and length you qualify for under section B.
The first step requires you to show that you are unable to provide for your reasonable needs due to a lack of sufficient property. This is where expenses will come into play. What are your reasonable expenses that you need to meet your reasonable needs?
In our second example, Husband and Wife are divorcing. Wife has taken all of the parties’ financial assets and cut off Husband from obtaining any access to their bank accounts or credit cards. Husband is virtually homeless now, staying with friends and family on their sofas. So what does Husband propose to the court as his expenses? Technically he has no expenses, because he has no money. However, this is again unrealistic. Husband will have expenses and need financial help to support his reasonable needs. Thus, it is recommended that Husband propose to the court reasonable expenses that would allow him to be on his own again and become self-sufficient. He should propose what realistic expenses for someone his age would be on his own.
The lesson here is that you should try and be realistic. If it can be avoided, try to not overestimate your expenses. There is a possibility that the judge will question where those large numbers came from. However, you need to consider that you will have some expenses, so try to credit yourself for those. You may not temporarily have any during the marriage, but realistically you will in the near future.